Friday, 5 August 2011

Fortex & Blue Lake Beans

Blue Lake and Fortex Beans
Here are two of the beans we grew this year. Both are new to our garden, although I have heard of Blue Lake beans for years. I remember when we got canned beans as a kid, Mom would look for Blue Lake beans as being the best. They are one of the very few vegetables ever sold by their variety name on a large scale. It's not uncommon in fruits, especially apples, but it's unusual in vegetables although potatoes sometimes get sold by variety.

These are both pole beans, and we agree with the common wisdom that they are better than bush beans. Pole beans are indeterminate (they will keep producing until frost, if not done in by drought) and the flavour is generally better. I think it's because there is a lot more plant to support the beans; they don't just rush to churn them out then die. Of course, you have to build a support of some kind for pole beans, but the trouble will be more than paid back when you go to pick them - so much easier on the knees and the back. And I have to say, one of this summers' pleasures has been standing between the two beds of pole beans, with big green leaves waving gently on either side. They are very beautiful plants. I can't say I noticed the Fortex flowers, but the Blue Lake flowers are a pretty butter yellow. We will still grow a few bush beans next year I think, but just enough to get an early crop before the later pole beans start.

Blue Lake S-7

Blue Lake is more of a set of similar varieties of bean rather than just one bean, and they have changed over the years. The first Blue Lake beans were grown in the Blue Lake region near Ukiah, California for the canning industry. As they spread out throughout the country, especially up into Oregon, they were refined to be more stringless and tender, and to have uniformly white seeds. (Earlier strains had seeds in a variety of colours.) The Ferry-Morse Seed Company did a lot of work with them, as did the Asgrow Company.

They are still available as a number of strains. You can get pole Blue Lake beans, or bush Blue Lake beans. We got the pole beans, a strain called Blue Lake S-7 from William Dam. They describe it as a vigourous, early strain for northern gardens. It produces about a week earlier than some other strains at 60 days, and tolerates cool weather as well as hot weather, although no bean will take really cold weather. They must not be planted until the soil reaches 20°C, like any other bean. They need good sturdy trellising. We have 7' trellises, and ours have reached the top, milled around for a while, and are now starting to hang back down. Don't grow them any taller though, or you won't be able to pick them!

Ours have probably produced about a bushel and a half of beans so far. We planted 400 seeds, I guess. They slowed down a lot during the end of July when it was so hot and dry. However, now that it has rained and gotten a little cooler (still hot though!) they are flowering and covered in little beans again. I won't be surprised if we get another bushel from them before they are done.

The beans themselves are thin, straight 5" or 6" beans, dark green and with a slighlty velvety texture to the skin. We have found them very flavourful, and of course they are famous for their ability to withstand canning and freezing. We have frozen quite a few of them.

We have had what I believe is bean yellow mosaic virus in the bean patch since the beans first came up this year. This causes yellow spots on the leaves, which will then turn brown and die with time. Naturally, this is not good for your bean crop. We were happy to see that the Blue Lake beans have been minimally affected, with a few dead and dying leaves near the bottom of some of the plants, but no discernable other effect.


Fortex is a bean that came to my attention much more recently. I read a number of glowing reviews of it, so I decided it was a bean we needed to try. We got our seed from Hawthorn Farm, I believe.

In spite of the odd, industrial fabric sound of the name, it is a French variety. It sometimes gets described as an heirloom, but I believe it is a fairly recent introduction. Like Blue Lake S-7, it's a pole bean and grew to a very similar size. It's supposed to produce in 70 days, a bit later than the Blue Lake but my impression is that they both started producing at very similar times. It is, if anything, even more productive than the Blue Lake, and on top of that the beans are longer, often reaching close to a foot. They do tend to twist or curl as they grow though, and some of them have been trapped by the growing vines - the beans are that long. Like the Blue Lake, it only showed minor damage from the bean yellow mosaic virus. It also kept producing through the heat-wave better than Blue Lake did. It is said to freeze well.

So it's a better bean than Blue Lake, right? Nope.

Or at least, a modified nope. Three members of our household thought they were excellent beans. Mr. Ferdzy and I thought they were just okay. Pleasant enough, but mild verging on bland. This is actually consistent with the reviews I had read: two-thirds of the reviewers raved ecstatically, and one-third said, "Meh." You will have to try this one for yourself.

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